Interns Exploited: An Unforgettable Meeting
I am not one for sharing negative articles however I am hoping that the experience that I’m about to share will serve as food for thought to our readers.
I was so excited for 2017, personally and professionally. We are currently in the process of rebranding (launching a new site and expanding our service offering), so it was going to be a busy yet great start to the year. On my very first day back though, I was reminded of the unpleasant underbelly of the world of internships.
I had arranged to see a construction company in Melbourne for a site visit. This company was eager to take on some interns and as we cover insurance, it’s important we visit every site to ensure it’s a safe working environment for our students.
Upon my arrival, the company looked professional; it consisted of a main office and a warehouse. I went in directly to the office section and was greeted by the office manager who seemed to be a lovely person. Overall, the company gave a great first impression, but it’s what you find upon looking closer that makes all the difference. I asked the manager about interns, and was told that the company had significant experience in dealing with interns; in fact, they had 12 interns working with them at that time. It wasn’t the number of interns that shocked me, but rather the fact that these interns had been working there between 12 months to 2 years, without pay.
After taking a moment to process the information I’d been given, I asked the manager where the interns were as the office had only a few people present. I was taken downstairs to the warehouse, and right at the back of the room were two rows of desks with the interns working away. Now would be a good point to mention that it was about 30 degrees in Melbourne on that day, and while the main office had had air-conditioning, the warehouse did not. I could tell that the interns were overworked and very stressed, and though I tried to advise on FairWork legislations and standards, my efforts were completely ignored. The interns were undertaking a range of tasks from moving heavy stock (that looked a bit unsafe) to helping with office administration, conducting sales calls, processing payments and loading delivery trucks. All the interns were accounting graduates.
I have spoken to FairWork Australia and have reported the incident. The graduate recruitment market is tough, and with all the limitations international students face due to lack of experience, more and more students are desperate to gain solid experience and a referral from local companies.
The sad reality is that the internships industry can be a difficult space to work in, one that can cause a lot of controversy. It’s important that companies are educated on the different protocols surrounding unpaid work, voluntarily work and internships.
On a positive note, the company will be investigated, and I am even more grateful to those companies that truly value their interns and take the time to train young graduates entering the job market.